Disney mobile’s stats:
Disney receives 151M texts monthly,
73M consumers access Disney from their mob web
18M access Disney through one of Disney’s Apps.
They predict by next year 50% of their consumers will access Disney by mobile versus web.
The love affair between marketers and mobile apps is in full bloom, but the obsession with apps and the niche market they represent is coming at the expense of the mobile web, which is exponentially bigger and starving for brand dollars.
Nearly 20% of U.S. mobile subscribers used a downloaded app in January, according to ComScore, but that audience is spread across myriad devices; no one app can reach that entire population unless it is reformatted a number of times. Yet marketers are throwing their relatively tiny mobile budgets behind iPhone apps rather than mobile websites that have the potential to get in front of more consumers.
Consider the largest app category, iPhone apps, at best only reaches 25% of smartphone users or about 11 million– a fast-growing segment that represented 42.7 million Americans in January, according to ComScore.
Compare that to nearly 200 million mobile subscribers that used a phone’s web browser on any device accessing the internet, from iPhones and BlackBerrys to Android phones. What’s more, phones will overtake PCs as the most common device to access the internet worldwide by 2013, according to a study from information-technology research company Gartner.
“Developers are bullish on the mobile web,” said Kyle Outlaw, experience lead at Razorfish. “But it’s hard to convince clients.” The iPhone app won its preeminence with marketers the same way it did with consumers: by presenting a user experience never before seen in mobile.
After the iPhone came along, “It wasn’t about mobile anymore; it was about the iPhone,” he said.
The case isn’t helped by the fact that mobile websites look low-rent compared to apps. Apps also win on rich media and usability vs. mobile websites. Most m-dot sites are a “low-fi” version of their wired-web counterparts, though agency folks are looking forward to the expected updates that will result in better-looking, higher-functioning mobile sites.
Apps can also use other hardware features on a phone, like its camera or compass, while mobile sites can only really tell where a user is located. Plus, with slow-load speeds, categories popular in apps, such as gaming, are not feasible on the web. Because an app runs offline, users don’t have to worry about a slow or spotty network connection.
It remains to be seen how long the iPhone app addiction will last, but the mobile web or what I call “device-agnostic” since it works on any operating system will eventually break through when the iPhone buzz dies down and the consumer can get equally rich app experiences on non-Apple operating systems. Or, if the new access to mobile web takes off…starStar abbreviated dialing codes.
App development is not easily scalable. It’s expensive and time-intensive to get apps on different phones. Not only that, more and more smartphones are coming on market and iPhone’s slice of the pie will shrink as more feature-phone users sign up for their first smart device. That fragmentation of the market will coincide with advertisers amping up their mobile presence … and marketers will have to look beyond the app to get at growing audiences on a growing number of devices.
Right now we’re in the Age of the App, but as browsers become more sophisticated, mobile websites will be on the rise and users will barely be able to tell the difference between the app experience and the browser.